Interview: Vincent D’Onofrio, Kill the Irishman

Vincent D’Onofrio is a legend of the screen, having worked with many huge directors, taken on many notable roles and being a leading man on “Law and Order” for well over 100 episodes. If you have not seen his work, you are truly living in a cave.

Starting with Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” and Chris Columbus’ “Adventures in Babysitting”, he went on to play Orson Welles in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” and appeared in Oliver Stone’s “JFK”. And who can forget his role as the villain in “Men in Black”?

I had the honor and privilege to speak with Vincent on June 1, 2011 about “Kill the Irishman”. First, we touched on a few of his career highlights.

GS: Were you asked to play Thor in the new film?

VD: No. It would have to be a very old Thor.

GS: Can you compare or contrast the directing styles of Stanley Kubrick and Tim Burton?

VD: They’re very different. Stanley took a long time to make a film and I think he was a photographer. Tim is a designer. He has this great imagination and designs great films, whereas Stanley thought more like a photographer and shot some great films. What they had in common was that they were both good storytellers. Very different storytellers, but good at their own style.

GS: Can you compare or contrast the directing styles of Oliver Stone and Harold Ramis?

VD: Harold was a very relaxed filmmaker. He approached things story-wise from a very comedic standpoint, he saw irony and comedy in every scene. At the same time he had it be very honest. Oliver, in the little bit I worked with him, was very fast-paced and everything was almost like he was documenting a kind of truth that he was committing himself to. It was about documenting this world he had invented.

GS: This is a really stupid question, but we received multiple requests to ask it — do you like sugar water?

VD: That is a stupid question, you’re right. No, not particularly.

GS: In “Irishman”, your character is a bit quirky. What did you base that off of?

VD: I invented it. There wasn’t much available on John Nardi from what I could find. There wasn’t much information, just a few facts here and there. And yet he really did exist and was involved with Danny Greene. But there were no specifics about what he was like. When you play a character, you have to make sure he’s interesting and not something you’ve seen before. So I didn’t want him to be the typical mobster. As you know, we all have our favorite gangster films and our favorite iconic gangster characters. You have to use your imagination as an actor and not repeat something that somebody else did. I had to create a guy nobody’s met before. That was fun, I like that aspect of it.

GS: The film was shot in Detroit rather than Cleveland. Did you have any concerns about safety?

VD: It gets a bit hairy at night. I wouldn’t wander around alone. I think most big cities get a little creepy at night. I was flying in and out from New York to Detroit. I did that 3 or 4 times, staying a few days each visit. So I didn’t really get to see a lot of the city, mostly the hotel and the set. I was told by a couple of guys at the hotel not to roam around downtown past 7 o’clock. But I didn’t see anything crazy going on.

GS: From the credits, it seemed that the entire Reid family served as producers. Was Tara Reid ever on set?

VD: I don’t know. I was there sporadically. Maybe.

GS: Do you think there is a moral conflict in showing a murderer as a hero?

VD: That’s all gangster films. That’s the thing about crime drama. People are drawn to crime drama because it’s a really good storytelling tool, the stakes are really high. Just the genre itself — if there’s a crime, the stakes are high. And people have always been attracted to that, from the early crime novels to the big movies these days. So yeah, I think there’s definitely a moral issue. It’s something that’s been going on for a long time. I think people like to sit in a theater, with the screen at a distance, and watch all the bad stuff happen from their safe little seats. Or in this case, from their homes where they’re safe and they can watch their big screen television. I think it’s the same reason people read the crime novels.

GS: Sure, but I think this film goes the extra step. A lot of people love Al Pacino in “Scarface”, but they wouldn’t say he acts morally. Whereas Danny Greene is sort of presented from the angle of the good guy.

VD: Well, I don’t agree with that. I don’t think he is a good guy. I think that by telling a story — and the director, Jonathan, is a very clever guy — by pushing the aspect that Danny Greene has evolved into this sort of mythological figure, and pushing the idea that he is a hero, I think Jonathan is smart enough to know that he raises the question even more about whether this is moral or not. Don’t underestimate storytelling. It’s a very interesting tool, as you know. The best films will push an issue even at the sake of being ridiculed, to drive a point home.

GS: Working with Christopher Walken… what stood out about the man?

VD: I met Chris a long time ago, I’ve known him a long time, but I don’t know him well. The thing that stands out for me is that he’s really such a gentleman, he’s quite a guy to hang out with and talk to. He holds his own really well. You’re talking about the guy whose performance in “Deer Hunter” inspired me to be an actor. It’s no joke. He is capable of the real deal when it comes to performance. So, for him to be that guy who was in the movie that inspired me and then at the same time be a gentleman and an inspiration to be around, it says a lot. If you ask me about Chris Walken, that’s what I have to say.

GS: That’s really cool and a great story. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been an honor.

VD: Oh, thanks, man.

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